Wednesday, December 05, 2012
By Majid Ahmed
Somali soldiers patrol the X-Control Afgoye intersection where authorities removed one of 65 illegal roadblocks citywide. The government said it would deploy 1,600 soldiers to take control over all checkpoints in the city. [Majid Ahmed/Sabahi]
Mogadishu residents say the removal of illegal checkpoints used by armed groups to extort money from motorists and residents marks a significant improvement in the city's security.
Somali security forces removed more than 60 illegal roadblocks in large-scale security operations that started November 27th in Mogadishu's Yaqshid and Karan districts. The operations expanded to Wadajir district and the surrounding areas and continued through Sunday (December 2nd).
"The removal of checkpoints from the roads of Mogadishu allows people to move freely throughout the city without being subjected to blackmail by armed militants," said Hussein Ahmed, a 32-year-old bus driver.
The roadblocks interrupted people's daily lives because the armed groups imposed huge levies on public service vehicles and would harass passengers if drivers did not pay the money quickly, he told Sabahi.
Since al-Shabaab withdrew from Mogadishu last year, tribal militias and armed men wearing government military uniforms set up dozens of illegal checkpoints throughout the city.
Somali President Hassan Sheikh Mohamud ordered the clearing of all these checkpoints in response to increasing complaints from residents.
"The government has met citizens' demands by lifting illegal barriers from the streets and neighbourhoods of Mogadishu," said Awale Osman, a 41-year-old owner of a cosmetics shop located near the Zoppe Intersection.
"This step will strengthen people's confidence in the new government as it seeks to make good on its pledges and keep its promises in terms of improving the security situation, achieving stability and restoring law and order in the country through tangible actions," Osman told Sabahi.
He said the government has managed to achieve in one month what the former Transitional Federal Government was unable to do in its entire term.
"We are confident in the ability of the new government to realise the aspirations of the Somali people for change so they can lead a better life like other communities around the world," he said.
The Benadir regional administration organised a peaceful rally on Monday (December 3rd) in which hundreds of residents of the capital, government and security officials, and civil society representatives took part to support and celebrate the removal of the roadblocks.
Removing the illegal roadblocks was an urgent requirement because it affected residents' security and stability," said Benadir Deputy Governor for Security Affairs Warsame Mohamed Hassan.
He said armed gunmen took advantage of the lack of police presence in the streets as security forces were pre-occupied with hunting down al-Shabaab remnants. "The cleansing operations will continue until we are sure that not one illegal checkpoint remains on the roads of Mogadishu and its environs," Hassan told Sabahi.
A call to rehabilitate militias
Mohamed Hassan Had, a clan elder in Mogadishu, lauded the efforts to remove the illegal checkpoints from Mogadishu. "This is a positive step, but we have to make sure that the militias do not return to the streets once again to erect new checkpoints," he said.
"We call on the government to put in place plans to disarm and rehabilitate the militias that manned the checkpoints and move them to special camps instead of releasing them into the city," Had told Sabahi.
"We have seen before how militants went back to the streets whenever barriers were removed and they are not disarmed," Had said. "We hope that the new government learns from previous mistakes and first disarms these militias, then rounds them up in rehabilitation and training camps."
The government plans to deploy 100 special forces in each of the capital's 16 districts, Minister of Information and Telecommunications Abdullahi Ilmoge Hirsi told reporters after the conclusion of last week's council of ministers session.
"The council has approved the formation of a special force that is 1,600 members strong and includes a mix of police, army and security forces that will be deployed immediately to the areas where checkpoints are to be removed," he said. "This will prevent the disbanded militias from returning to the streets."